Wednesday, August 31, 2011
THE GETTING OF FALWELL: How a bunch of Neopagans and psychic experimenters royally messed up the fundamentalists' march on Washington.
This was many years ago, so the statute of limitations – if you can find a law against this – has long since run out. I was living in Chicago at the time, and my roommate and most of my friends were involved in an amateur psychic research group. We'd gotten to the point of understanding that theater and religious ritual were equally good for arousing that part of the mid-brain where psychic talent is lodged, and we'd formed a Neopagan circle for that purpose. Our chief organizer, my old friend Mary Frohman, dug up the ancient Roman/Anatolian god Mithra for us to use as a patron god, on the theory that nobody in the group had any negative emotions connected to him. Besides, we were all involved in social-justice political causes, and decided that a god of integrity and honorable warfare would suit us well.
Then we heard about Jerry Falwell whipping up a proposed “Million Christian” March on Washington, the next April, for the purpose of pressuring Congress to wipe out all those nasty civil rights laws and Supreme Court decisions about freedom of-or-from religion. Well, how were we going to stop him? This, we decided, was a case for psychic work – or Magick.
The next really big Pagan – and particularly Mithraist – holy-day was the Winter Solstice: December 21st. It was the most psychologically/ritually significant date we could think of before April, and also the best time of the year for getting all our friends together. So we sent out invitations to anyone interested, and anyone who took this stuff seriously, and got started creating our ritual for the event.
Mary took care of the religious/ritual aspects, and I was handed the job of planning the magickal “working”, which would be plugged into the ritual between the invocation of the required gods and the thanking of the gods, after which came the dismissal and closing. Anyone who has ever read Isaac Bonewits' book, “Real Magic”, can readily understand this arrangement. It would put the psychic “working” right after we'd chanted and sung everybody into the right mood.
One of our regular members, Jim Mason, was working in a chemistry lab at the time and arranged to borrow some sensitive lab thermometers, which were all the testing equipment we could get at the time.
What I decided to write was a three-part free-verse poem. The first section called upon the goddess Anahita-of-the-waters, mythologically the mother of Mithra, in her aspect as rain-bringer. The second called specifically upon Thor, as the Lord of Storms. The third part was aimed at Jerry Falwell himself, personified by a black man-shaped candle with his photo stuck on its face. Each line of the poem was followed by a choral line: a classic Responsive Reading. In the first two sections the speaker's lines outlined, one by one, Jerry Falwell's insults to the pagan gods and his threats to their worshippers, and then slipped into requests to drop rain on Falwell's planned march. The chorus lines were “Piss on their parade”. In the third section the speaker's lines enumerated Falwell's sins and proclaimed what would happen to him as a result, and the chorus lines were: “Piss on your parade”.
Well, came the big night and a good 25 people showed up. Jim placed his thermometers: one on the altar-table, one on the floor within the “circle” area, one outside the circle several feet away. We all happily took the ritual bath (an ordinary bathtub filled with water mixed with a tea of appropriate ritual herbs), changed into our ritual costumes (whatever the wearer thought would “feel right” for the occasion), and started the service. There was the expected giggling and shuffling as we started drawing the establishing circles (salt for Earth, sprinkled water for Water, a smoking censer for Air, and a burning candle for Fire), but by the time the third circle was drawn everybody had gotten into the spirit of the thing. Mary chanted the Latin part of the Mithraic Mass (basically ordering out every known Bad Guy in the name of every known Good Guy, and declaring the space “dedicated to the uses of the gods”), which I daresay I could quote even today:
“Incipiamus. Adeste fideles.
Descedant omnes profane
Hic locus sanctus est!
Hic locus sanctus est!
Hic locus sanctus est!”
I noticed that the cats gathered respectfully just outside the circle, watching us intently, and the thermometer which Jim had placed on the altar showed a rise of one degree centigrade in temperature. Jim, as the “monitor” (objective observer), stayed outside the circle – and outside the ritual mood – to take notes. As we proceeded into the summoning of the god the temperature rose again, and kept rising, to the point where Jim felt obliged to go open the windows. Now remember, this was the Winter Solstice – in Chicago, and the house where we were holding the ritual was right on the edge of Lake Michigan, and the wind off the lake came pouring in through the open windows – and we were still hot enough that sweat was running down our backs, even under our light robes (and we wore nothing underneath them).
We proceeded with the sharing of the cakes and wine, the anointing and crowning and symbolic sacrifice of the Winter King, and the dedication of his power to the Working. (This was the point where I felt sweat literally running off me.) We identified the candle with Jerry Falwell (carving it with his name, anointing it with oil while visualizing him, finally sticking his picture on it), then lit it and stuck it in a bowl. Then I picked up my script and instructed the worshippers to “join in on the chorus” (as I usually say when singing for a live audience, which most of those present had been at one time or another). Then I started reading the poem, line by line. After every line the rest of the congregation enthusiastically chanted: “Piss on their parade!” By the time we got down to the third part, the chorus of “Piss on your parade!” was shaking the walls. We ended by pouring water over the candle, with a great cheer. Then the priestess led the thanking of the gods, the dismissal, the closing hymn and the opening of the circle.
The temperature dropped immediately, and Jim hurried around closing the windows while the rest of us, remarkably tired considering how little physical work we'd done, went to the buffet table and filled our plates before dropping onto the thoughtfully-prepared chairs, sofa and cushions to eat, drink and discuss the working. We always finished our ceremonies this way, and this was where Jim and his observations came to the fore. He read off his notes, showing exactly when the temperature rose, and where it was concentrated (in the middle of the altar, not actually among the close-packed bodies of the celebrants as one might expect), and exactly when the temperature had dropped. We agreed that we had raised a lot of energy, and hoped it had been discharged in the right direction – both in space and time. The difficult part, we understood, was that we had placed a “rain curse” intended to work some four months in the future. We simply wouldn't know if it had “taken” until next April. Jim wrote into his notebook: “Results inconclusive: wait for April.”
Well, that April, sure enough, Jerry Falwell and company showed up in Washington DC. He hadn't been able to raise his hoped-for million: only about 20,000. But from the hour that his chartered busses arrived and began unloading in DC, all the way through their march through the capitol, all the way to their rally in the stadium nearby, it rained. It wasn't a hard fast rain that ends in an hour; it was a slow, warm, pissy rain that lasted all day – right up until the last of Falwell's troops got back on their busses to ride home. The media duly reported the march, and forgot it the next day. Congress went on about its business, uninterrupted.
Jim wrote in his notebook: “Experiment successful”.